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My daughter’s recent travels (she lives and works in Bavaria and last week took a short break in Verona with side trips to Venice and Mantua) and my two trips to NYC this past summer have brought to mind my first real conscious trip to the city,

She says this was horse.

many, many years ago.

And as I was mentally retracing my steps on that trip just now, I was just so amazed that I survived I thought I’d tell you about it.

It was 1978 – the summer before my Freshman year at UT.  I’d taken a couple of classes in my major (history)  during the summer, my dad taught at UT and I lived in Knoxville, so I wasn’t a hardcore, never-been-there Freshman, though. I knew my way around and wasn’t hugely stressed about the fall.

My mother was a New Englander – born in New Hampshire and raised in southern Maine, and because of that we spent about a month every summer up in Maine, at the home of the uncle and aunt who had raised her after her father died in a car accident and her mother went off to live in a rest home.

That summer, I had gone with them up to Maine, but because I needed to move into the dorm earlier than they’d be returning (my dad had a visiting year at the other UT in Austin that year, so I guess they weren’t having to head out til later for that reason too), I decided I would do just that.  I’d come back.  On the bus. Yes,  I’d ride the bus from Maine to Tennessee. And, since that route would naturally take me through New York City, I also decided that I wanted to see the place, so I arranged my itinerary so that I’d arrive (I guess) in the afternoon and then leave again late the following afternoon, taking a night bus down to Tennessee.

(First digression:  How did we make these kinds of arrangements before the Internet?  I’m at a loss. I guess I found a Greyhound or Trailways  schedule and figured it out? Right?  I have no idea.)

So far, my parents were totally on board, and didn’t seem to give the plan a second thought.  In fact, they never did, to my knowledge. The questions then became  – where would I stay or  that night?  My mother, being older – she was born in 1924 – and not having spent a great deal of time in New York City and still evidently having her vision of the place shaped by My Friend Irma and other tales of Smart Girls Alone in the City in 1952 said, “Well, of course you’ll stay at the Barbizon,” not understanding that the Barbizon was a residential, rather than tourist hotel and that, well, it wasn’t 1952.  I am not sure how we figured it out – that it was a residential hotel, but we did. Scratch the Barbizon.

Next idea? Well, of course, the fallback would be the budget-friendly travelers’ rest that everyone knows -

the YMCA!

Now, the Manhattan YMCAs – as well as others around the world - are indeed known for providing such hostel – like accomodations. I guess we knew they admitted women.  I guess.

(Okay – I did have a guide to New York City Hotels I had picked up in a travel agency – remember those? For some reason I can even remember the layout of the silly thing, all these years later.  I must have studied it so extensively – a premonition of hours  days spent in travel research to come. The YMCA must have been on the list.)

So, that was the plan, such as it was. The departure day came, I got on the bus (not sure where – Sanford? Portland? Portsmouth?), waved good-bye and off I headed back to the South, with a slight detour.

I disembarked at the Port Authority hours later – after witnessing a street brawl between two women through the window –  and yes, this is Times Square in 1979, and yes I saw it all, right there. Grime, porn shops, prostitutes (very aggressive prostitutes almost accosting men, angrily), the works.  A little bit of a culture shock, but I forged on, because I was going to the YMCA.

Without a reservation. 

Not one of us had imagined that such a thing would be necessary.  How crowded could a YMCA hostel in Manhattan be? I mean, isn’t that what the YMCA hostel experience is all about? Showing up and finding that Young Christian hospitality, just… there?

Hahahahahaha. 

So, yes, I was turned away at the front desk. They didn’t laugh,but I do think they were incredulous.

And there I was, an 18-year old girl from the Midwest and the South without theatrical or artistic aspirations… in Manhattan….without a place to stay!

I don’t remember my state of mind at the time.  I’m assuming I was upset and worried, but I also don’t remember it being overwhelming or throwing me into a panic.  I whipped out my hotel guide, found the cheapest ones that were nearest (I’m sure I was operating on a cash basis), and started to search.

I have absolutely no idea the name of the place I found or where it was – since this YMCA was on the East Side – near the UN, as I recall, because I remember seeing it  – perhaps the hotel was over there as well.   But I did find one – with a room the size of a closet with a shared bathroom down the hall.

(Do you see why I’m such a patient, tolerant traveler? THIS was my first big trip alone!)

What did I do that night?  What I remember doing is going to a deli down the street, getting a sandwich, being amazed at the size of it,  and eating it in my room while reading a book.

Some things never change.

Next day:

(Prelude:  I’ve never worn a watch. For some reason, I feel naked without a hair tie around my wrist, but a watch has always bugged me.)

I was awakened by the sun, and indeed, felt wide awake. Get up! Get out! Experience the city! Pack up your backpack, go down to check out!

See by the clock behind the desk that it’s 6:30 AM!

Gee, if only I’d been more sophisticated, I could have wandered to the right places and met Andy Warhol or someone emerging from their night partying….

Well, of course I was not going to say, never mind and slink back up to the room.  So I did what any good Catholic girl would do when faced with this situation at this hour: I went to Mass.

Again, I don’t know where I was, but it was not at a great distance from St. Patrick’s because that’s where I ended up for Mass.  After which it was still about 7:30, I guess, with no place open except breakfast joints. So I started walking.. And for the rest of the day, up until my bus left from the Port Authority late in the afternoon…I walked.

I took my scruffy self into Saks and for the first time in my life, felt quite out of place.  Looked at some price tags. Blanched.

I walked down, down, down, and around and around.  At one point, seeing little but empty storefronts and the homeless, I looked up and saw a street sign.  “THE BOWERY” it said, and once, again, having been formed in a milieu in which Tin Pan Alley and show tunes were the soundtrack, immediately thought: 

The Bow’ry, the Bow’ry!
They say such things,
And they do strange things
On the Bow’ry! The Bow’ry!
I’ll never go there anymore!

…and turned west, knowing that I’d hit the financial district soon enough.

Which I did.  I got there and went into the Stock Exchange – I had the leather souvenir key chain I bought there for years – then started walking back up north, hitting Macy’s, I think, and I don’t recall what else.  You see where I was, so I never did any museums or saw Central Park. It was all central and lower Manhattan, me, the 18-year old with the backpack, making her way back to the Port Authority to catch the night bus to Knoxville.

As I said, I don’t remember every being panicked or scared. I tend to take things in stride, and I guess that was part of my psyche then, as well.  What do I remember? I remember a contrast between scruffiness and sleekness, but I remember far more scruffiness. But nothing I saw that trip was a scruffy as what I saw a couple of years later when I returned with my father, who was attending a professional meeting – and as we walked down the street after dinner with some of his colleagues, a fellow standing in the street, needed to go, and yeah, whipped it out, and..went.

Awkward. 

Years later, I asked my dad…”Why did you let me go to New York by myself that time?”  He shrugged. “Everyone who doesn’t grow up in one need to do it – to go to the big city, deal with it, and discover that yes, you can handle it.”

Maybe with the slightest of plans, but definitely without a data plan.

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— 1 —

Add this to scenes I never expected to happen in my life:

Me saying to my HOMESCHOOLED son: “Hurry up and finish your work so we can go buy the MOUSE for your SNAKE to EAT.”

Just in case you’re around 30 years old and think that you know where life is going….

Speaking of learning and link-ups, Melanie Bettinelli is beginning one entitled “Guilt-Free Learning Notes” which I’ll be participating in – starting this Saturday. Should be fun.

— 2 —

So Sunday we went to Whole Foods after Mass.  We were just getting milk and my lime sparkling water so Joseph stayed in the car and Michael and I ran in.

At one point, an older man walked down our aisle with his cart. I looked at him, he glanced at me, I nodded because in that instant I recognized him, without knowing why or how and the nod just happened. He nodded back.  Courteous-like, the way we do down here.  We moved on.

But it bugged me.  I don’t latch on to random people, imagining that I know them.  If my subconscious is joggled, it’s for real.  I I just couldn’t identify him, though.  I definitely felt that I *knew* him in some sense.  I went through the checklist of my rather limited local circles. Church(es)? No. School(s)? No.  Neighborhood(s)?  I don’t think so…but maybe….

And then it hit me.

He looked exactly like the actor who plays the Senator in that fantastic show Rectify. 

I mean – didn’t look like him.  Looked to be him.

Could it be?  I mean, I knew that one of the Rectify actors lives in the area – Clayne Crawford, who plays Teddy, Jr, but..this guy? I didn’t even know his name. As the seconds past, the less sure I was.

So we checked out, we went to the car, and I sat behind the wheel. I got the Ipad from Joseph and looked up the Senator.

And this article came up: “Vegas, Gray’s Anatomy star Michael O’Neill moves back to Alabama.”

In fact, the man whose character went on a murderous rampage in a memorable “Grey’s Anatomy” season finale is a family man, an actor and an Alabama native who recently moved back to the area.

Originally from Montgomery, the Auburn grad moved back to Alabama in November of last year to be closer to his father, who has since died. He also wanted to give his three teenage children a taste of his home.

More recently, some of you might recognize him from this summer’s CBS show, Extant. 

Yup. That was him. Amazing. So..what to do now? Go be a fangirl, not only of him, but mostly of Rectify?

Damn straight!

The boys were, of course, mortified and declined to go back in.  I casually strolled up and down the aisles of Whole Foods, not at all in a stalkerish fashion, no not me,  and there he was – chatting with  couple of other women.  I waited until they were finished, and approached.  He was so very nice, asking my name, expressing both surprise and gratitude that I watched Rectify. We talked about the pleasures of a well-done program committed to be realistic about the contemporary South, I mentioned the appeal of the spiritual themes, and just thanked him for his work. Very gracious fellow!

(And no…I didn’t ask for a photo…)

— 3 —

My 9-year old is taking a boxing class with other homeschooled boys. He loves it.  I don’t know what it is about the coach/teacher who runs the class and the gym, but he has a gift for motivating.  The kid is wiped out by the end of the hour (a 9-year old? Taking shower in the middle of the day? Get out....) but also totally pumped and positive. It’s like magic.

— 4 —

I reread Waugh’s Handful of Dust this week, just because I was not in the mood for Collins’ intricacies. I’ll get back in that groove this weekend.  Boy I had forgotten how dark that book is.  You know, people always rag on Miss O’Connor for being “dark” and grotesque, but honestly – read Wise Blood next to the early Waugh, and you can see what real darkness – that is without even a glimmer of grace – is.  Precise, knowing and hilarious, yes…but ever so depressing.

— 5 —

Speaking of British things, do you know what I’ve never watched?  You guessed. Downton Abbey.  I don’t know why I’ve never been interested.  I think my deep loyalty to Upstairs, Downstairs has closed my mind to what I perceive as an uppity usurper.

And speaking of those old Masterpiece Theater series, what were your favorites? As a teen I gobbled them up, especially – in addition to U/D:

I, Claudius

The Pallisers 

Shoulder to Shoulder.

My parents were devotees, as I recall, of The Forsythe Saga and The First Churchills, but I was too young to care when they were into them and I only remember thinking that they looked beyond boring..  But I adored Derek Jacobi (Claudius), was captivated by the unwilling,but ultimately loving marriage of the Pallisers and probably a little in love with Donal McCann who played Phineas Finn.

Shoulder to Shoulder was a 6-part dramatization of the woman’s suffrage movement in Britain, and was a huge influence on me.  I think it helped situate my thinking about feminism in a historical context, giving my young self a sort of freedom from the secular feminist cant of the 70’s.  It’s a very powerful series and, oddly enough, is one of the few such series never released in recorded format.  Can’t find it anywhere.

— 6 —

My daughter, who lives and works in Bavaria, has taken a short trip to Verona and environs this week.  You can see some of her pics from Verona here, and catch what she saw yesterday – 9/11 - in Venice yesterday here.  

Us? Well, we went to Oak Mountain! Go, us!

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That was actually a nice day – after the first half of the week full of lessons and classes (Because no socialization!) , we could finally get out after the hated cursive and not-quite-hated math was done.  A good hike, then a turn around Aldridge Gardens and then the library.  All the time with the steady soundtrack of detailed descriptions of Lord of the Rings Lego sets….

— 7 —

I’ve continued my slow march through my books…..for adults (including RCIA)  here...for kids here…devotional and parish materials here.  Still to come, materials for teens and the four books Ann Engelhart and I have done together.

(And remember…today’s the feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary...so how about that free Mary book?)

St. Francis’ feastday is coming soon!  Time to talk about Adventures in Assisi!

"amy welborn"

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

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My daughter lives and works in Bavaria now, and she snagged a few days off.  Her initial plan was to visit a friend who’s living in Paris, but that friend was, it turns out, going to be out of town during that time.  So no free housing in an expensive city.  So what to do?

I suggested northern Italy – it was more or less a straight shot from where she is down to Verona.  And do a day trip or two.  Mantua? Venice?

So she went.  Verona first.

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And that’s just a fraction of one day’s experiences….

(And the weirdest thing?  I saw one of my friends here this evening and she said, “Guess where my brother was today? In Verona!”)

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Finally…more over the course of the week, but it is available.   

A great gift for your catechists?

(For bulk orders for this or Bambinelli Sunday thinking ahead – contact Franciscan Media.

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And here’s the first interview – Ann was interviewed on WABC’s “Religion on the Line.”   Access the podcast here and her segment begins at about 8:45. 

More over the course of the week…..

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— 1 —

We’re back. House intact, snake alive.

"amy welborn"

BIG is a creepy movie, and he’s never seen it, but he did know about the big piano at FAO Schwarz, so here we are.

 

— 2 —

We did almost everything I wanted to do with them.  They’d been to New York City before, but had little memory of it.  It was hot, but not unbearably so. It was crowded, but once you were away from Midtown, Times Square and Fifth Avenue, it was a lot better.

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St. Patrick’s from the top of Rockefeller Center – a nice view of the cruciform shape.

— 3 —

It’s expensive, though, I’ll tell you that – as if you needed to know, as if I needed a reminder.  Really, if you want to do a biggish city with lots of culture with kids and not spend so much money, and you don’t have relatives or friends to crash with in the area, Washington DC – where almost all the museums are free – is the way to go. (Also Chicago if you have local museum memberships – our McWane membership got us into both the Field and the Museum of Technology and Industry – FREE.)

Even attempts to save money here can be problematic.  We spent a big chunk of Wednesday in the American Natural History Museum – they surprised us by having an extensive and good ancient Americas collection, so yes, we spent more time than we thought there – and we went in and out a couple of times (btw, at no time did anyone look carefully or scan our tickets….).  The ticket line was horrendous – every time – first thing in the morning, when we left for lunch, and when we left for good around 3 – probably a hundred people on both sides – but I had just walked up to a kiosk and purchased ours, no wait.  I’m sure the lines were all about redeeming passes of one sort or another…too bad people have to spend part of their short time in New York waiting in lines like that….

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My pre-Columbian scholar LOVED this section.

— 4 —

Food?  Well, nothing super memorable.  Shake Shack met with approval (especially by me when I discovered they serve alcohol), the arancini we snacked on in Little Italy were very good – unfortunately the way we ended up spending that day took us away from Chinatown before I could find the hand-pulled noodles I’d been hoping to get.   Excellent pizza at this by-the-slice place.  Good sandwiches from a deli behind the Natural History Museum, eaten in Roosevelt park.

"amy welborn"

No fine dining for us, but they weren’t too hungry that often.

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— 5 —

Favorite things?  I think Governor’s Island, the Brooklyn Bridge and Central Park (where we wandered – saw wildlife – Look!  It’s a RAT!” – did the rowboats and the remote control sailboats) and the Tenement Museum would top the list for all of us.

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Down on the South Street Seaport, looking at Brooklyn.

 

Every counter person, sales person, museum attendant, bike rental person we encountered was very friendly and helpful.  The only rudeness was from a taxi driver who heard where I wanted to go (longish story) and scoffed.   Someone told me later not to tell them where you are going until you actually sit in the cab – then by law they have to take you.  (All’s well than ends well – the subway station was closer than I’d thought….)

— 6 —

We did see Newsies which they enjoyed but which was ultimately meh because it was, of course, the usual homogenized, musically pedestrian Disney stuff.  I couldn’t help be amused by the irony of a Disney show having as a central theme the exploitive greed of a business – as we sat in a theater where the full-priced tickets  went for $300 for a little more than 2 hours of entertainment.

(I got ours at the TKTS booth down at the South Street Seaport – decent discount.)

(On their last visit, we went to see The Thirty Nine Steps which was so inventive and delightful and held their interest, even though they were four years younger than they are now – in a more deeply engaged way than the in-your-face eardrum busting hoofing of Newsies.)

The dancing was great, the vibe was a good one for the boys, but all I can say is that last night when I got home, I watched, for the zillionth time, the opening number from On The Town…no comparison, as if anyone would expect there to be.

(BTW – a revival is coming! )


 

 

— 7 —

We went to the World Trade Center Memorial – not the museum, but the striking,  huge downward-flowing fountains constructed on and in the foundations of both buildings, both surrounded by walls in which have been etched the names of those who died there.  I found it so very moving and quite fitting.  They are fountains, rather than the cool stillness of stone, and so they powerfully convey a subtle message of hope and life.

"amy welborn"

No, we did not take selfies at the WTC memorial.

 

For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

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Time to check this one off the list:

"amy welborn"

It’s Moundville – and that really is the name of the small town where this archaeological site is located, this site full of…mounds.

It’s about 15 miles south of Tuscaloosa, which, in turn, is about 50 miles southwest of Birmingham.  It’s been on my to-go list for a while, but even so, I was surprised by how extensive it is.

So no, it’s not that far away and I’d heard of it, but this visit was kicked up the list a couple of days ago when I Michael found a coffee table book on “Mysteries of Ancient America” or something at an estate sale and I dug deep for the three bucks to get it for him.  He leafed through it and murmured, “This will be very useful.”  (He’s nine).

At some point he showed me a page with a photograph of a structure that caught his fancy – a mound with steps – always a plus when you can climb the archaeology. I said, “Where’s that?”  He shrugged and we looked at the caption which didn’t mention a country or state but did say, “On the Black Warrior River” and I said…”Wait – that’s Moundville!”

To discover that this awesome spot was an hour from his house and he had been allowed to be ignorant of this fact was too much.

This settlement of a Mississippian Indians was last inhabited over 800 years ago.  Its flourishing followed that of Cahokia, in Illinois, so archaeologists posit that at some point, this Alabama settlement was the largest city north of Mexico.

 

You can climb on two of the mounds, including this, the largest.

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The associated museum is small but quite good, having undergone a recent renovation.  The exhibits are very attractively displayed and clearly explained.  Even the two videos we saw are far beyond the lame level of the 1989-era videos one usually sees at historical parks.

 

 

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The back of the museum, viewed from atop one of the mounds.

As per usual, I found the modern history of the site just as (if not a bit more…) interesting as the ancient story.  Amateur archaeologists first explored and wrote about the site the mid-19th century, followed by more intensive work at the beginning of the 20th century by one C.B. Moore:

C. B. Moore was a wealthy man born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and educated at Harvard University. At the age of 40, Moore puchased a flat bottomed steamship, named theGopher, and navigated the Florida rivers during the summer. Concentrating on the shell middens and sand burial mounds along the rivers of Florida, year after year, C.B. Moore carefully excavated sites along the waterways. While Moore reserved the warmer months for traveling along the southeastern waterways and excavationg sites, the winter months were spent analyzing his findings and writing reports that were published by the Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.

In 1899, Moore ventured into Alabama traveling up the Alabama River. Then, in 1905, Moore traveled up the Black Warrior River where he spent most of his time excavating two mounds and surveying Moundville, a Native American center with over 20 mounds. Impressed by the size of the site and by the elaborate artifacts Moore uncovered, he returned the following summer to continue excavations. Moore was one of the first archaeologists to explore Moundville and document his findings, and, although his methods were not as sound as Jefferson’s, he nevertheless provided modern archaeologists with a wealth of information that might otherwise have been lost.

Then, a few decades later came Dr. Walter Jones (for whom the museum is named)

In the 1920s, several local citizens and state geologistDr. Walter B. Jones led efforts to turn the site into a park. Jones mortgaged his house to fund the purchase of the site, and Mound State Park (later renamed Mound State Monument) was established in 1933.

 Jones, assisted by David L. DeJarnette, began the first scientific excavations at the park in 1929. From 1933 to 1941, at the height of the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) restored the mounds, built roads, and constructed a museum. Jones, DeJarnette, and others at the Alabama Museum of Natural History directed the force, excavating 500,000 square feet of the site, and more than 2,000 burials, 75 house remains, and thousands of artifacts

One of the placards at the museum said that this excavation work was the largest ever in the United States – and still only 14 percent of the site has been excavated.

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The Black Warrior River

The museum is the only concrete building constructed by the CCC in Alabama (the others being stone/wood of course).

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(As I have said before, I find the history of the history fascinating and always have.  I blame, first of all, my 9th grade World History class which was excellent and based completely on interpretation of primary sources. Then I blame the honors history program at UT which had a hardcore focus on historiography, and then my favorite class at Vanderbilt, which was on historiography and for which I wrote a paper on the uses of historical evidence in the debate over women deacons in Early Christianity….I guess what interests me is the human response to the surrounding world and how we discover, understand and interpret that whether that be via art, historical work, religion, literature or just…living.)

No, it’s not Chicen Itza or Uxmal, but that’s okay.  We (and I mean we ) learned a lot and found the whole experience quite absorbing.  Hopefully we can make it back for the festival in October.

And believe me, it doesn’t matter if it wasn’t Uxmal.  We might as well have been back down there because all the day the air around us was filled with chatter from our resident archaeologist/herpetologist/musician as he recalled every detail of our visit to Mexico and reminded me – repeatedly – of places yet unseen…of Palenque and Coban and….

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Uxmal, earlier this year.

 

 

 

 

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At the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.

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